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Life+ Benthic Habitat Research for marine Natura 2000 site designation. (LIFE BaĦAR for N2K)
Start date: Oct 1, 2013, End date: Jun 30, 2018 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background Marine habitats are becoming more vulnerable, largely due to the impact of human activities. Some are listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive and following a Natura 2000 marine biogeographic seminar in 2010, and various communications with the Commission, Malta is required to protect certain of these marine habitats. However, it lacks marine habitat data and a detailed, central database. Because of this, it is not possible to create a comprehensive marine habitats map. Currently, marine Natura 2000 sites are restricted to coastal waters and have been designated only on the basis of the presence of the priority habitat, Posidonia oceanica meadows. However, other priority marine habitats need to be surveyed, mapped, and included in the Natura 2000 network. Objectives The project aims to: Address the dearth of marine habitat data – specifically location, range, conservation status – by collecting existing information, surveying marine areas and analysing the data collected. This will help the Maltese authorities to establish the distribution of marine habitats listed in Annex 1 of the Habitat Directive, namely sandbanks, reefs, and submerged and partially submerged sea caves, with the aim of extending existing sites and identifying new sites to be included in the Natura 2000 network; Enable and promote the active participation of all stakeholders in the project, as well as in ongoing activities after the project has ended; Establish conservation objectives for marine Natura 2000 sites, based on the data collected, as well as stakeholder input. This will provide a platform to guide the management of Natura 2000 sites following the project; Enhance stakeholder understanding of the conservation and management of marine resources, the aims of the project, LIFE+ funding and the Natura 2000 network. Expected results: The creation of a broad habitat map of Malta’s marine area; The production of three scientific reports, containing a detailed analysis of the data collection; The production of medium to fine maps of protected habitats; The prioritisation of identified habitats, in accordance with Annex III of the Habitats Directive; The identification and designation of SCIs, including the possible extensions of existing SCIs; The creation of Marine Natura 2000 biotope maps and Natura 2000 standard data forms for each designated site; The improvement of protected area designation, thus fulfilling Malta’s obligations as set out by EU directives and other international agreements; An assessment of the current conservation status of the habitats surveyed; The setting of conservation objectives for each proposed Natura 2000 site; The drawing up of a management framework for the designated sites; An increase in awareness and participation by the organisation of seven scientific committee meetings, six stakeholder seminars, two public meetings and four interviews with the local media; The production of dissemination of communication material, including 14 noticeboards, a short video, a calendar and a project website.

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